Cut down on stress by ‘grinning and bearing it’: Study
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily NewsConfirming maxims from time immemorial that smiling is better for you, a new study by academics in Kansas has revealed that making a grin during stressful work will actually help reduce heart rate levels.
“The next time you are stuck in traffic or are experiencing some other type of stress, you might try to hold your face in a smile for a moment,” said psychological scientist Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas. “Not only will it help you ‘grin and bear it’ psychologically, but it might actually help your heart health as well.”
The findings by Pressman and colleague Tara Kraft show that smiling during stress can help reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy, Science Daily reported yesterday.
“Age-old adages, such as ‘grin and bear it,’ have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life’s stressful events,” said Kraft. “We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits.”
Two types of smiles
Smiles are generally divided into two categories: standard smiles, which use the muscles surrounding the mouth, and genuine or Duchenne smiles, which engage the muscles surrounding both the mouth and eyes. Previous research has shown that positive emotions can help during times of stress and that smiling can affect emotion; however, the work of Kraft and Pressman is the first of its kind to experimentally manipulate the types of smiles people make in order to examine the effects of smiling on stress.
The researchers recruited 169 participants to determine how different types of smiling, and the awareness of smiling, affects individuals’ ability to recover from episodes of stress. The study involved two phases: training and testing. During the training phase, participants were divided into three groups, and each group was trained to hold a different facial expression. For the testing phase, participants were asked to work on multitasking activities. What the participants did not know was that the multitasking activities were designed to be stressful.
The study suggest that smiling may actually influence our physical state: compared to participants who held neutral facial expressions, participants who were instructed to smile, and in particular those with Duchenne smiles, had lower heart rate levels after recovery from the stressful activities.